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Dr. John Rae


1813 - 1893

Arctic Explorer. Born in the Hall of Clestrain, near Stromness (Orkney), Rae studied medicine at the University of Edinburgh. He joined the Hudson's Bay Company and, between 1846 and 1854, was centrally involved in three expeditions to explore the Canadian Northwest Territories. He surveyed the route for a telegraph line across the Canadian Rockies, and another linking Britain with the USA, via the Faroe Islands and Iceland. His expedition of 1848-9, under the command of Sir John Richardson (1787 - 1865), was attempting to find the missing Rear-Admiral Sir John Franklin. Rae was able to determine the fate of the Franklin Expedition by speaking to the local Inuit people. Franklin's two ships had become ice-bound and sunk and, unfamiliar with their surroundings and without Rae's understanding of the local people, the entire crew eventually starved. Rae found they had resorted to cannibalism but this conclusion was met with horror by polite Victorian society and Rae was shunned.

He retired to London, where he died. He left instructions that he should be buried in St. Magnus Cathedral (Kirkwall) and that is indeed where he lies. The Rae Strait is named in his honour.


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